What Are You? (Christian Trimmer)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Are You?, written by Christian Trimmer and illustrated by Mike Curato, a gentle story about appearance, identity, and stereotypes.

Two colorful poodle siblings are at the park when they meet a new dog, a puggle, and ask, “What are you?”. The puggle responds that they are a dog, but the siblings push on, wanting to know what KIND of dog, presumably because their new pal looks distinctly different from them. Upon learning that the puggle’s parents are a beagle and a pug, they begin to apply stereotypes to the other dog, insisting that they are good at hula hoop because ALL pugs are, and good at pogo stick because ALL beagles are. The puggle points out the inaccuracy of their assumptions, and asks if they are good at the things they practice and enjoy because they are poodles. This gives the poodles a eureka moment, and after apologizing to their new friend, they offer to disrupt a similar conversation that some children are having nearby.

A valuable conversation starter. While this title isn’t necessarily perfect in its overview of identity, there are some elements here that work extremely well in a format geared toward very small bookworms who are only beginning to approach the concept of differing cultural identities amongst their peers. While the title may be snappy and the question works for dog breeds, “WHAT are you?” – without a later emphasis on “who” instead – is a cringey question that people of non-white cultures will be all too familiar with. However, the way that the book breaks down stereotyping for young audiences, especially as it pertains to talent or interests, is very well done, as are the backmatter questions for caregivers and children. Curato’s soft and colorful illustrations help the story pop and give the characters great charm. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed it. Overall, definitely worth a look, especially when trying to begin conversations on this tricky topic, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

All The Way To Havana (Margarita Engle)

Hello, friends! Our book today is All The Way To Havana, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato, a beautiful tale of a unique island.

A little boy’s family is headed into town today, with a cake and a gift in hand, for his new baby cousin’s zero-year birthday. But their generations-old car, affectionately named Cara Cara after the chicken-like sounds its engine produces, is having trouble starting, as always. So the boy and his father lift the hood and tinker with the hodge-podge of parts and scraps holding the ancient engine together, coaxing the old land-yacht back to life. After giving some friendly neighbors a ride and navigating a sea of similarly-unique vehicles, the family at last arrives at the birthday party, filled with excitement, family, and food. And after a fiesta (and a short siesta for the boy), the family heads back to their village, the cluck/clanking of Cara Cara ferrying them on their way.

Fascinating and beautiful. Without going into any detail (beyond mention of a complicated political situation in the afterward), Engle introduces the reader to a slice of Cuban life through a child’s eyes that is filled with color, culture, and life. With the theme of the unique vehicular population of the island running throughout, the story also deftly folds in elements of Cuban life and culture, inviting readers to experience the boy’s day alongside him. Curato’s immaculately detailed illustrations, especially his talent for bustling cityscapes, is the perfect compliment to the journey. The length is great for any age, and JJ loved imitating all the onomatopoeic car sounds. A sweet, one-of-a-kind adventure the celebrates what makes modern Cuba so unique, as well as all the things – such as kindness, wonder, and familia – that we share. Baby Bookworm approved!

What If… (Samantha Berger)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What If…, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato, an ode to the power of the creative mind.

With a pencil and paper, the unnamed protagonist can write stories and draw art to tell the tales that sing from within her. But what if the pencil was gone? Not a problem – she could fold the paper into origami sculptures to create her stories. And if the paper was gone? Not to worry, there is no end to the mediums she could use to create and express herself: wallpaper, wood, snow, song, dance, dirt, light and dark, on and on. There’s a whole universe of stories within her, and she will find a way to bring them to life by any means available: “As long as I live, I will always create.”

Delightful! A passionate look at the drive to express oneself through art, the charm is in the girl’s unflagging ability to find artistic outlet, and Curato’s fabulous mixed-media depictions of this. With each medium, her work grows more elaborate and fantastic: a life-sized paper airplane carved from a wooden table, a fire-breathing dragon of autumn-colored leaves, an igloo and snowman constructed of sugar cubes and marshmallows. Then even stripped down to basics – creating shadow puppets or singing into the darkness in the absence of light – she aims to artistic expression still. It’s a nice way of exploring creativity as a need, and the indefatigable drive artists have to make real the inspiration within them. For artistic young readers, this will feel like a book that speaks directly to them, and validates this drive. Otherwise, the length was fine, and JJ loved the colors and textures of the brilliant artwork. A lovely bit of encouragement for young creatives, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (Mike Curato)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato, the latest in the heartwarming Little Elliot series.

Waiting in line at a department store to see Santa, Little Elliot (a precious polka-dotted elephant) and his best friend/roommate Mouse discuss what they’ll ask for. Elliot has a surprising request – he wishes for Christmas spirit, as he is having trouble finding it on his own. Santa explains that it’s something everyone must find for themselves, so Elliot and Mouse set out into New York City to search. They attend the ballet, visit Rockefeller Center, go sledding – but due to some mishaps, Elliot is just not finding the feeling he’s hoped for. Just then, a red envelope (teased in the title page) flutters onto Elliot, addressed to Santa himself. Unable to deliver it to the jolly elf, Elliot reads the letter and is touched by the earnest request inside. He and Mouse hop in a cab and rush to make the sender’s Christmas wish come true… and maybe find some Christmas spirit for themselves as well.

You simply cannot go wrong with a Little Elliot book. I have yet to find a book series that has the same consistently fantastic quality in story, art, and message. As much of the series does, this one focuses on friendship and togetherness, here as the true spirit of the holidays. Elliot and Mouse are indescribably adorable, and the vintage-inspired city they inhabit inspires a warm and cozy nostalgia, perfect for a Christmas tale. The length is great, and JJ and I adored it. A touching and wonderful story to share with the one you love, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

(A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

What’s Your Favorite Color? (Eric Carle & Friends)

Hello, friends! Our book today is the visually stunning What’s Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle & Friends, a gorgeous collaboration of fifteen of the most beloved children’s book illustrators on their favorite colors.

What’s your favorite color? Is it yellow, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Eric Carle? He likes yellow because it is often the color of the sun in children’s drawings. Or is it green, like Philip C. Stead, who likes to imagine that many things can be green, even an elephant if he really feels like it. How about the late, lovely Anna Dewdney’s favorite: purple, the color of her favorite childhood outfit and the peacocks she dreamed of having one day. Or is it blue like Bryan Collier, who is reminded of his daughter whenever there are rainy days and blue balloons. Everyone has colors that are special to them, even many colors, or all the colors! How about you? What’s YOUR favorite color?

Absolutely stunning. For kidlit nerds like me who absolutely love picture book illustrations, this is quite simply a treasure trove. Each color-inspired spread is unique, personal, and visually striking, from Mike Curato’s raccoon enjoying a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone to Frann Preston-Gannon’s vibrant orange tiger hidden in grass to Jill McElmurry’s hauntingly beautiful black garden. The short blurbs that the artists have written to accompany the colors are sometimes funny, sometimes touching; all of them will make you consider each color from a different perspective. The length was fine, and JJ and I both adored it – this was even the first color book in which JJ was able to distinguish between gray and black, and the first time I’ve heard her use “black” properly! A feast for the eyes for readers of every age, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!